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Grammatically Correct: Mixed Constructions Make No Sense

by Dodici Azpadu

061957-firey-orange-jelly-icon-people-things-people-singing200Sentence parts that do not fit together grammatically or logically result in a mixed construction. Although readers will see and hear the logical error first, the cause of the error is often mechanical. Writers force parts of speech to take on grammatical functions for which they are not designed. The example below shows both errors.

For athletes who play contact sports have increased risk of arthritis later in their lives.

The first part of the sentence goes off track between the words sports and have. Most readers hear and see the error immediately. The long prepositional phrase For athletes who play contact sports is in a subject position. By rule, a prepositional phrase cannot be a subject of a sentence. It can only function as a modifier.

Writers can start a sentence with a prepositional phrase by way of introduction, but then they need to add a proper subject and verb in an independent clause, as in the example below.

For athletes who play contact sports, arthritis is a risk later in their lives.

The same problem occurs with adverbial clauses in the subject position. And the same solution is available.

When students are late is very distracting to other students.

The adverbial phrase When students are late cannot be the subject of a sentence. Like prepositional phrases, the function of adverbial phrases is to modify.

When students are late, they distract other students.

But another revision is also possible. Change the adverbial phrase into a gerund phrase. The gerund phrase can be the subject of a sentence.

Being late to class is very distracting.

Or revise the sentence based on who or what is the actor/subject of the sentence.

Students who are late to class are very distracting.

A mixed construction also occurs when writers use a coordinating conjunction to separate a dependent clause from an independent clause. Review the FANBOYS acronym (from my article “Grammatically Correct: Fixing Run-on Sentences”) to remember coordinating conjunctions: For, And, Nor, But, Or, Yet, So.

Although celebrities live charmed lives, yet they can have serious drug problems.

Either although or yet needs to be deleted.

Celebrities live charmed lives, yet they can have serious drug problems.
Although celebrities live charmed lives, they can have serious drug problems.

Sometimes artists draw with their non-dominant hand to bring attention to how their drawing tools affect their creative execution. A way for writers to bring heightened attention to their creative expression is to concentrate on their grammar tools. As a rule, writers do not want to impede the flow of words to page, especially in early stages of a draft. As an exercise, however, noticing subject choices and the verbs connected to them helps writers see where weaknesses in sentence construction occur.


Dodici Azpadu, MFA, PhD is a novelist, short story writer, and poet. Her fiction publications include: Saturday Night in the Prime of Life and Goat Song (Aunt Lute/Spinsters Ink) and subsequently Onlywoman (London, England). Living Room (2010) and Traces of a Woman (2014), both by Neuma Books, are available as ebooks. She’s currently at work on a novel, tentatively titled Living Lies.

WearingThePhantomOut100Her poetry publications include Wearing the Phantom Out (2013) and Rumi’s Falcon from Neuma Books. Individual poems have appeared in Malpais Review, Adobe Walls, ContraACultura (online), Parnassus, Sinister Wisdom, Latuca, The Rag, and The Burning Bush. Her work has also been anthologized in Centos: A Collage of Poems and Hey Pasean!

Dodici teaches “The Joy of Poetry” and “Craft of Creating Writing” classes through University of New Mexico’s Osher Lifelong Learning.

This article was originally published in the May 2011 issue of SouthWest Sage and is reprinted here by permission of the author.

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